Darcia writes to recommend Chatterblocker (Windows or Mac) a piece of software which helps to eliminate background noise. Unlike Noise (my software of choice for this task), Chatterblocker works not by creating white noise, but rather by distoring the current noise (i.e. altering current conversations enough that they cannot be followed.) Because I like studying in public places at times, this type of program is valueable. It is especially useful for studying in dorms, coffee shops, and libraries.